Boxing Day: Ouch

Today is Boxing Day, and we’re gathering up donations and cleaning the house. We took a little Boxing Day break and ran up to Carkeek Park, and let the kids run around for an hour. It was wonderful, cold but clear, and the kids had a blast. I, however, was not careful and fell hard, crashing my lumbering oaf body to the concrete. Both of my hands are now horribly sore. There’s no permanent damage, but it doesn’t feel nice.

Then, as an irritation addendum, I broke my teapot. Luckily I have a back up. A true tea aficionado is never without a reserve in which to prepare his tea. Overall is was a nice relaxing day. I just need to learn to be careful. The strangest thing about my age is that I feel the same as I did at eighteen. I just can’t correct for mistakes as easily, and when I make a mistake, the pain doesn’t ease in minutes. It takes days.

Taviri is really hilarious about Boxing Day. I don’t think he understands at all that we are gathering donations for Goodwill, but he is so excited about the day regardless. Whatever his personality quirks, his unbridled enthusiasm for whatever is happening at the moment is a great asset. The day seems more fun now.

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On The First Day Of Christmas

My truly lovely family gave to me a wonderful day. Until some late onset spazz attacks at Herc and Sarah’s Christmas dinner extravaganza, the kids were incredibly sweet and well behaved on Christmas day. This was our first Christmas that really felt like a family event; everyone is big enough to enjoy it, the kids really got into their gifts. The night before, Viri and I curled up and watched the NORAD Santa tracker, and talked about the traditions of the day. This is an interesting time, when they are young enough to look at the holiday as a special day, but too young to understand what is going on or what is expected of them.

Everyone had a great day, so I consider it a rousing success. Viri got various fun gifts, and Arkaedi made everything super cute. Due in a large part to The Full family, and Gramma and Bebe, and Herc and Sarah, my kids were loaded with awesome presents. It pays to have great friends and family, kids. That’s a good holiday lesson.

If anyone is interested, here are the multitude of holiday photos. Merry Christmas to all! Joy and peace to you. And to me and my exhausted children, a good and restful night. Hopefully silent. But I’m not banking on that part.

It’s A Christmas Week Celebration

We’ve had a fun week of Christmas celebration here, beginning with a trip to Seattle Center to see the winter village with the mighty Herc. It was a good time, and Viri ran spazzing into the chilly afternoon. As he is wont to do. To be honest, the standard money and career and parenting frustrations had been building for a few weeks, and I was really not looking forward to the season. I’ve been avoiding it fairly successfully. But, the sight of the festive families and my kids running and playing cheered me up, and I shifted into holiday gear.

Jaime takes the twelve days of Christmas idea very seriously. The twelve days represent the months, and you are supposed to treat them as a microcosm of the coming year. Christmas eve is the last day of advent, a day off, so to speak, and Christmas day begins the twelve days. We’re very sincerely trying to make these days good, and prepare ourselves for the enxt year. It will have it’s trials and tribulations, certainly. The next year for us is very up in the air. Which can be good or bad; hence the preparing. I’m setting the foundation for a great year for our family, in my attitude and behavior.

Today we took a vacation day. We drove out to the little Bavaria of western Washington, Leavenworth. It is a really fun and odd little town. It really reminded us of the touristy type places in Switzerland. (A lot of people in Seattle mock it for being a tourist destination or not actually being Bavaria. Which is ridiculous; sure it’s touristy. But being “German” in a fun way isn’t any sillier than being a French restaurant or Japanese karaoke place. It’s just a theme. Pull the stick out, city of Seattle, and relax.) It’s a neat place, and the kids just loved it. Viri went sledding, we looked at bizarre German knick knacks, and got keychains with our family crests! (Barkers have lions and gryphons! We’re awesome.)

The kids were perfect, which was a pleasant change from the earlier part of the week. I think the mood was affecting them. I know Viri especially was sensitive to how irate I have been. So, I made an effort to relax and have fun, and Jaime and I joked and laughed, and the kids just fell right into step. We had an amazing family outing. The high point for me was watching Viri dive headfirst down the hill on his sled. He was a berserker today, and I think it really opened him up. With the weather being chilly and wet, he hasn’t gotten enough outside time. He is an outside boy; he behaves so much better when he can run and scream and go crazy.

Tomorrow is a day to get things in order, and take some personal time. I’m going to the gym, cleaning the car, and clearing my head for the twelve days of Christmas. I think it will do me good to take it pretty seriously this year as well. I want good things for the family in the coming year. And today I was reminded that good things aren’t luck. They happen when you take a breath, open your heart, and have fun with the people you love. In my experience there’s no such thing as luck.*

*That’s in the Bible, right?

Baseball Off-Season Shenanigans

The baseball off season has been very wonderfully busy for the Seattle Mariners. We acquired a Cy Young pitcher in Cliff Lee, we got rid of some bad contracts, and we got a nice hitter with the hilarious name of Milton Bradley. In addition to the pieces already in place and the feel good signing of everyone’s childhood hero Ken Griffey Jr., this is shaping up to be a masterpiece.

Bradley has a pretty bad reputation as a troublemaker, actually, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. For one, when you’re winning, those things become less important. Secondly, I’ve heard some pretty nasty things said about him from the fans in Chicago, and that would make everyone a little irate. I can promise you this, Milton: we might chuckle softly at your fun name, but there will be no racist epithets from the fans at Safeco. We do not tolerate that in Seattle.

So, the year that I may be leaving Seattle is the year that they trade for some star players and really make a try at contention. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 2001, and they look to seriously want to get back in 2010. If I do move, I am flying back to Safeco for the games this season. I’ll hitchhike to the playoff games if I must, but I will not miss a winning season here.

I often state that people should support teams by geographic region. Meaning, if you live in NYC, you root for the Mets or the (God forbid) Yankees. But I have destroyed my own theory with my devotion to the Mariner’s in the past few years. I can change football teams, I can root for other NL teams…But I’m doomed to be a Mariner fan, for good or ill. No matter where I live, Seattle is going to be my baseball team. I am now stuck with two teams, my university, West Virginia University, and the Mariners.

The current GM, Jack Zduriencik, definitely gives me reason to hope. If I was the kind to hold up signs at the ballpark to express myself, I’d make one that says “Cliff Lee is great, Jack Z, but you had me at Junior.”

On second thought maybe I’ll become the kind of guy who makes signs just for that one.

Paella Man! Wing One Over Here!

This has been the month of cooking experiments at the Barker household. As you may have noticed, I am enamored with olive oil, garlic, and other Mediterranean staples. My favorite Mediterranean dish I’ve ever made is the farmer’s paella. It’s fairly quick, easy, and wonderfully colorful. It’s also probably the most nutritious thing I have ever eaten. It’s basically fresh veggies and rice in vegetable broth. This is actually so wonderful that I’m going to post how to make it. I don’t know if anyone will want to try it, but I highly recommend that you do.

First, what you need. It’s flexible, but the basic stuff I use are as follows:
2 cloves garlic
A nice olive oil (3tbl or so for this recipe)
A yellow onion
Saffron threads
2 cups Veggie broth (I use low sodium)
1 red bell pepper
1 cup arborio rice
1 lb tomatoes (four normal roma tomatoes are roughly a pound)
6-8 baby carrots
1 bag frozen lima beans
1 bag frozen peas
salt
pepper (NOT Pepa)
some slivered almonds for garnishing

I cook the entire recipe in one big cast iron, save for the first bit, which I simmer in a small sauce pan.

First, simmer the broth with a 1/4 teaspoon of the saffron threads. (I just toss in a small bit. I don’t like measuring unless I have too. It’s why I’m a good cook and a lousy baker.) Don’t boil the sauce, just get a light simmer.

In the big skillet, saute the garlic and onions for a few minutes.
Add the bell pepper, and cook a few more minutes.
Add the tomatoes, diced fairly fine, and all of the juices.
Stir in the rice, uncooked. It’ll cook up nicely in the next few steps.
Mix all that up fairly well, then add the broth.
Simmer this on medium high heat, then turn it down.
Add the lima beans and the baby carrots. For tender carrots chop them up pretty fine.
Cover it and simmer on low-medium heat for ten minutes.
Add the frozen peas. (I never use the whole package. I use a half cup or so)
Simmer for a few more minutes. It should be creamy and thick. If it’s runny, or the rice isn’t soft, leave it a few minutes.
Serve immediately with slivered almonds on each bowl.
Make sure to honor the Simpsons and order each guest (ORDER them) to say, “Yo, paella man! Wing one over here!” before they get served.

This is a wonderful and wholesome wintry delight. Viri even likes it. (“Papa, this is not gross!”)

This is adapted from the Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen, my new favorite cookbook. Buy one today!

Nice Cooking Part Deux

I know how to spend a weekend. I went to the gym, burned off a few calories, then proceeded to pile them back on with pastries. I continued my experiment with cooking Mediterranean delights today with a favorite in southern France, pain au chocolat. Or, chocotastic doughy yumminess. I was exceedingly pleased with how these came out, although I can’t really take any credit. Jaime helped me, and the cookbook (Vegan Brunch) was from Ryan Full. So, all I really did was listen to Jaime, follow directions, and make some yummy pastries. For me, however, that’s a huge win.

These have a special place in my heart because of a trip Jaime and I took to Europe in the winter of 1999-2000. My parents were separating, I had just graduated college, and I was a little discomfited by everything going on in my life. Jaime and I flew to Italy, and traveled through Italy and France and Switzerland as a graduation present to me. It was a wonderful trip, perhaps our greatest vacation ever. We had been married so long we traveled together easily, with no arguments or disagreements about where to go or what to do.

A few days before New Year’s eve we ended up in Nice, France. We decided to stay there, and spend the holiday relaxing on the chilly beach and eating wonderful food. No one in France was panicking about the Y2K nonsense, which shows that they are more sensible than Americans in at least one way. As one person there put it, Nice survived Roman invasion, marauding barbarians, and Nazis. It would still be there in 2001. That’s just a sample of their wonderful attitude.

Jaime and I spent every morning walking in the cold, eating pain au chocolat. We would walk up the old streets, past beautiful old churches cottages. It was a lovely time. On New Year’s Eve at midnight a beautiful French girl ran around kissing everyone and saying “Bonne Anne!” or something that meant happy New Year. Pain au chocolat makes me full and happy and transports me to that memory. And they look good too!

Mediterranean Extraordinaire

I had an extremely successful cooking experience today. I made risotto and bruschetta, and they came out great. I took the time to venture into holiday shoppers and hit Delaurenti’s deli downtown, and it was well worth it. The extra good olive oil and cooking wine made the difference. The risotto was slow cooked to perfection, and the vine ripened tomatoes in olive oil and balsamic vinegar made for a fantastic bruschetta appetizer. I was very pleased with the final result, and so where Jaime and the kids.

The entire trip downtown was fun, in truth. It was packed at the Pike Place Market, with tons of people out for the holiday shopping. Everyone was having fun, and celebrating that age old Seattle tradition of standing wherever they wanted and not moving for anyone. Even Viri got in the spirit and stood in doorways, blocking people from moving.

Seriously though the mood was nice, and there were carolers and decorations and trees enough to please Viri. Arkaedi didn’t notice as much, as she is less impressed with Christmas and more impressed with mundane things at her age. (“Purple wall!”) It made for a pleasant day off, and everyone was happy and festive. The holiday season is officially here at the Barker household. Arkaedi even limited her attacks on Viri’s face to one today, in a charitable holiday spirit.

It’s The End The End Of The Quarter

I had Ramones in my head all day, since Viri heard Blitzkrieg Bop on a commercial and said, “Hey Papa I like that let’s go song.” I was torn between irritation that his exposure was on a commercial, and joy at hearing my music hating child express pleasure at a song. A fun song, at that.

It’s the end of a quarter of work. As usual, I’m torn; it’s nice to have some time off, especially for the kids. But I hate having three unpaid weeks. Especially when Jaime gets to working on the budget. It reminds me again of the unsustainability of our situation. It’s a shame, because I love my job, and I love Seattle. But I don’t have a way for this to work long term. I need to get a better paying job, with fewer weeks off a year.

The plus side of all of this, as I mentioned in my career ruminations earlier, is my search for just such a job has been really interesting and rewarding. I’m discovering what I want to do, and how that can turn into what I can make money doing. I’m not hamstrung by ideology. I’m ready to just flip through the metaphorical listings and make some choices. Hopefully, when the new year rolls around, I’ll have some concrete progress to show for all of my cogitation. Which will be a first time, granted, but I’m willing to accept that the first time for this has come.

And here’s Pretty in a lovely pink dress: who wouldn’t want to work and provide for that paragon of cuteness?

Nobody, that’s who.